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Open Access Publications from the University of California

CRAGE-mediated insertion of fluorescent chromosomal markers for accurate and scalable measurement of co-culture dynamics in Escherichia coli.


Monitoring population dynamics in co-culture is necessary in engineering microbial consortia involved in distributed metabolic processes or biosensing applications. However, it remains difficult to measure strain-specific growth dynamics in high-throughput formats. This is especially vexing in plate-based functional screens leveraging whole-cell biosensors to detect specific metabolic signals. Here, we develop an experimental high-throughput co-culture system to measure and model the relationship between fluorescence and cell abundance, combining chassis-independent recombinase-assisted genome engineering (CRAGE) and whole-cell biosensing with a PemrR-green fluorescent protein (GFP) monoaromatic reporter used in plate-based functional screening. CRAGE was used to construct Escherichia coli EPI300 strains constitutively expressing red fluorescent protein (RFP) and the relationship between RFP expression and optical density (OD600) was determined throughout the EPI300 growth cycle. A linear equation describing the increase of normalized RFP fluorescence during deceleration phase was derived and used to predict biosensor strain dynamics in co-culture. Measured and predicted values were compared using flow cytometric detection methods. Induction of the biosensor lead to increased GFP fluorescence normalized to biosensor cell abundance, as expected, but a significant decrease in relative abundance of the biosensor strain in co-culture and a decrease in bulk GFP fluorescence. Taken together, these results highlight sensitivity of population dynamics to variations in metabolic activity in co-culture and the potential effect of these dynamics on the performance of functional screens in plate-based formats. The engineered strains and model used to evaluate these dynamics provide a framework for optimizing growth of synthetic co-cultures used in screening, testing and pathway engineering applications.

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